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National media regulator threatens weekly over publications on alleged corruption

Expression

National media regulator intimidates and threatens weekly Manager Horizon

Over the past few months, Congo's national media regulator, Conseil supérieur de la liberté de la communication (Superior Council for Freedom of Communication - CSLC) threatened the weekly Manager Horizon over a series of articles it publishedsaid Reporters without Borders (RSF). The CSLC summoned the weekly twice for questioning - on 24th June and 8th August 2019 - over articles on the alleged mismanagement of funds by the National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC). Manager Horizon was on both occasions asked to substantiate their claims with proof or to stop any further publishing on the topic. At the meeting on 8th August 2019, the media regulator threatened 'to make the newspaper disappear', followed by a formal warning on 9th August on grounds of 'refusal to comply with the Council’s instructions to present irrefutable evidence', according to the editor of the weekly Habib Ayoka who spoke with RSF. RSF's Africa desk said

"By demanding evidence of a journalistic investigation, the CSLC is threatening the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and is violating its primary mission, which is to ensure that the media are able to work in a completely free and independent manner"

According to the press freedom CSO, it is more an act of intimidation than a regulatory measure. 

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on 3rd May 2019 RSF said this about press freedom in the Republic of Congo, which is ranked 117th in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index: 

"The conditions for the exercise of journalism in Congo-Brazzaville remain difficult. The country has lost three more places in RSF's global press freedom ranking in 2019. Self-censorship remains an ongoing problem for journalists who are intimidated and afraid to criticise power." (translated from French)

Situation for media outlets in Congo 'critical' and 'sombre'

The environment in which media outlets operate in the Republic of Congo is 'totally unhealthy' and the situation is 'critical' and 'sombre', said the Association des éditeurs de presse du Congo (AEPC, Association of Press Editors of Congo) in June 2019. According to the association, the situation is due to the 'deliberate' absence of subsidies from the authorities. Jean-Clotaire Himbou of AEPC said to the media: 

"The landscape for audiovisual and print media in Congo is reducing in scope. Many outlets are disappearing. Many radio and television stations are closing because we simply have an economic environment that does not allow newspapers and radio and television stations to work better. This environment is totally unhealthy" (translated from French)

Association

Burglary of human rights CSO 

On 13th March 2019, unidentified perpetrators broke into and pillaged the offices of the human rights organisation Association pour les droits de l’homme et l’univers carcéral (ADHUC, Association for Human Rights and the Prison Universe) in the suburb of Moungal in Congo's capital Brazzaville. Alain Kombo of ADHUC commented

"They took everything away. Their intention is of course to prevent us from working, or they are sure that doing so will slow down the action we are taking. This is something we deplore because our work consists of supporting, advancing and developing our country." (translated from French)

Kombo said they could not exclude the suspicion that the burglary was related to comments made by ADHUC and other human rights CSOs a few days earlier in the media denouncing the verdict in the case of the deaths of 13 young people while in custody at the Chacona police station in Brazzaville. The CSOs said that the sentences handed out to six police officers who were tried for manslaughter was 'complacent and scandalous'.  

Report on human rights in the Republic of Congo

On 9th May 2019, the human rights organisation Observatoire congolais des droits de l'Homme (OCDH, Congolese Observatory of Human Rights) published its annual report on human rights in the Republic of Congo, titled 'Terror and permanent repression combined with the manipulation of international public opinion by the those who govern', saying that although the government is pretending to adhere to human rights - including by drafting legislation and the formulation of policies - the reality is much bleaker with grave human rights violations. The report, based on reported cases of violations of political, civil, social and economic rights in 2017 and 2018, says that the space for the exercise of civic rights in Congo is shrinking. According to OCDH, authorities have used the pretext of 'non-authorised protests' to justify aggression against and arrests of trade unionists, journalists, political opposition and activists. Additionally, grounds of 'public order' have often been invoked by authorities to ban protests 'systematically', while security officers 'do not hesitate to resort disproportionately to force'. Other human rights issues highlighted in the report include torture, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, lack of an independent judiciary, impunity, overpopulation and poor conditions in prisons, among other issues. 

The government of Congo denied the findings of the report. Spokesperson for the government, Minister Thierry Moungalla accused the CSO of being an 'office' in service of a 'political conspiracy'. 

HRD prevented from travelling to UN conference

On 11th May 2019, the president of the OCDH Trésor Nzila was prevented from travelling to Nairobi, where he was to attend an UN conference on justice and good governance. In a statement, the organisation said that airport authorities at the Maya-Maya international airport in Brazzaville used a circular letter from the vice-prime minister dated 27 February 2019 that mandates all employers 'wishing to leave the national territory, provisionally or definitively' to obtain a certificate from the National Social Security Fund confirming that all social security duties were paid. OCDH said in its statement that they payed their social contributions regularly, and that they : 

"condemn the method and denounce the communication deficit on this circular and its misuse which ultimately becomes a fallacious pretext for hindering actions of human rights NGOs" (translated from French)

Nzila was prevented from travelling abroad just days after OCDH launched their annual human rights report (see above).